There’s sometimes a fine line and many times confusion between wear & tear and tenant damages. For instance, a tenant has lived in a property for 2 years and the carpet was new when they moved in. Upon move out, there are stains everywhere that will not come out, even with professional cleaning. Who pays for the carpet? What about the notorious calls regarding the disposal being stuck or plumbing backing up? When is the tenant responsible and when is it the owner’s responsibility? Many times this IS a grey area due to the fact that it is hard to prove if it’s a maintenance issue (regular use, generating a habitability issue) or something the tenant did that caused the problem. It’s a fact, things wear out and need to be fixed, maintained or replaced over time. Wood rots, carpets wear out, bulbs burn out, batteries die, plumbing is known to leak or back up at times. Here are a couple of pointers:
1. There are some issues that seem common to every property that are not specifically spelled out in the contract. My advice: Spell these items out! Even if you think they are clear, sometimes being redundant is a good thing for emphasis and clarity. Say things in different ways. Highlight and have tenant initial major clauses upon signing the lease agreement. I use an addendum for some of these items and meet with owners to add or take away items that are most pressing to them. For instance, one of my clients is dead set against a tenant smoking inside their property. While we check the box for “no smoking” on the contract, the owner wanted me to add the consequences to the tenants if they break this rule, as well as, clarify that this includes any type of smoking, vaping, and smells that may not come out of the carpet and paint. One tenant found out the hard way when they had to cover carpet replacement and repainting and extra cleaning costs.
Another property management company I know adds an addendum stating, what may seem obvious in the contract, things like, tenant is responsible for changing burnt out light bulbs and batteries in smoke alarms, etc. Again, if it’s important to you and the same issue has come up over and over, put it in writing and have the tenant acknowledge understanding.
2. Ask a lot of questions to try to get to the bottom of the issue. Somethings are cut and dried. New carpet was installed before move in…. 2 years later it looks like they were working on a motorcycle in the living room. You may re-emphasize the concept of depreciation and wear and tear to the tenant before move in, but this is obvious damage. The broken window is another one that comes up frequently. Tenant: “I don’t know how it broke? Maybe a tree branch hit it in a storm?” All the while you are thinking, I see you kid constantly playing baseball in the house.” Many times this is just the cost of being an investor. Bottom line, put aside money for repairs, but there are times when you get an honest tenant that says, “I did break the window, and I don’t have the money right now to pay for it…” This is a great opportunity to help them out – split the cost? Put them on a payment plan?
3. Hire vendors that will do thorough investigation and pay attention to the cause of the damage. Also, ask the vendor a ton of questions to try to get to the bottom of it. The classic case when the plumbing is backed up… how did this happen? Was it tree roots in the mainline? Or was it a toy car flushed down the toilet? Another classic: Did the garage disposal cease to work because it’s 15 years old? OR was it the bottle cap lodge in the blade that fried the motor? Have the vendors take pictures – always good to have as back up.
4. Hire a professional manager/management company. They have seen much of these issues over and over, and know how to handle it best on your behalf. A professional manager will have policies and rules laid written out for the tenants to follow, which clarifies some of these grey areas. Also a professional should know the law and legal ramifications of a tenant’s actions, or an owner’s response and responsibility. Having a professional manager can take away much of the emotions that go along with dealing with tenants and help bring objectivity to these questionable situations.
I’m happy to answer your questions and help you in your property management adventure
Here’s another tidbit regarding garbage disposals – 19 things you should never put down a disposal.
Keith Klassen, Real Estate Broker – 916.595.7900
Specializing in residential sales and property management